Anglo American Heroes – Edward R Murrow
In a series of portraits, we look at Anglo American heroes. Men and women who transformed both our great nations for the better.
Courageous men are not always revered. Outside of their immediate generation many are not even remembered. Most tragic of all some are never celebrated at all in their native country. These portraits aim to throw light on the achievements of those Americans to whom Britain, in particular, owes a continued debt of gratitude.
Murrow in Britain
We are currently living in a Nation with a fractured news media, mistrusted by the very people it pertains to inform. Americans now have to endure a bewildering catalogue of “Fake News,” and “Alternative Facts”. Every day they are inundated with opinion masquerading as news. Every year fewer of them question the veracity or accuracy of the reports put before them. There can be no better time than to take a critical look at Edward R Murrow, one of America’s greatest broadcasters.
Ed Murrow is most famous for helping destroy the climate of persecution and fear that gripped America during the McCarthy area. What is less well know, is that he was also instrumental in pushing the plight of Great Britain to the forefront of American politics during the eighteen-months it fought alone against the Axis forces in World War II. In doing so, he imperceptibly changed the course of the war.
Murrow changed American opinion during World War II
It would be an exaggeration to claim that Murrow brought the USA into World War II. But at a time when only Empire forces stood between Nazi Germany and European domination his “This is London” series from the blitzed out capital conveyed to Americans both the desperation and heroism of the British people. Murrow’s “live” broadcasts frequently took place from the rooftops of London during severe bombing raids. They were groundbreaking in their immediacy and vividly conveyed to America the terror Londoners were living under. There is little doubt that they were fundamental in helping sway opinion in a nation that had previously thought of the conflict as a “European” war from which they should remain aloof.
America, at the outbreak of the war, was a deeply divided nation. Many pro-Nazi movements operated openly. Still more thought America should remain neutral. In 1940 Murrow and his wife Janet helped publicise and expand the“Bundles for Britain scheme” alongside Clementine Churchill. Its propaganda value on behalf of a besieged Britain was massive, even if its practical use was limited. The Germans, In contrast, were never able to gain the same kind of momentum in the USA. By Pearl Harbour Murrow had effectively turned the American people from aloof neutrality to ardent support of Churchill and Britain.
The poet Archibald McLeish best summarised his achievements when he said.
“While In London you destroyed in the minds of people in this country the superstition that what is done beyond 3000 miles of water is not done at all. That violence and lies and murder on another continent is not violence and lies and murder here. That what we cannot see, hear and touch can have no meaning for us.”
Murrow after the war
Senator Joseph McCarthy could not have prospered in any decade other than the 1950s. A perceived Soviet threat induced a toxic paranoia throughout American society. McCarthy fed off this and for a while was arguably the most important political voice in America. Though we do not deal here with this aspect of Murrow’s career, it needs noting that his “See It Now” broadcasts in 1954 were the first cogs in a giant wheel that crushed both McCarthy and the claustrophobic atmosphere of fear and suspicion he had nurtured.
Murrow was a chronic chain smoker. Even by the standards of a society where smoking was almost “de rigour”. Practically never seen off the air and more incredibly on it without a cigarette, he was a sixty a day “Camel” man who died of lung cancer at just 58. Poignantly only three months earlier Winston Churchill, personal friend and the man he had sponsored into the homes of millions of Americans also died.
It is probable that if Ed Murrow had not existed, the USA would still have eventually come to the aid Great Britain. But undoubtedly not to the same extent or with the same popular energy. McCarthy could also have eventually destroyed himself without his intervention. What is incontrovertible however is that Murrow tackled both of these anxieties first and with the most exceptional tenacity.
Murrow was also well ahead of his time in hiring the first woman correspondent for CBS Mary Breckenridge. This was unheard of in a period when blatant sexism permeated every stratum of American broadcasting.
Murrow wanted American TV to be a marketplace of ideas, not products. In that, he emphatically failed.
But for the last vestiges of “responsible “unbiased journalism that still exist in America, we ever owe a debt to Edward R Murrow and his doctrine that news should address the need to be clear, the need to be precise and the need to set in perspective what is going on in the world.
Boy how we could do with him now.
For a look at how Black GIs fought their own troops in Britain during World War II read my blog on http://www.englishmanlovesamerica.com/black-gis-in-britain/